Opinion: Yet to Come
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone | MRN.com on February 1, 2017 | 9:42 A.M. EST
Greg Biffle and some other veteran drivers are without rides, which is one of the story lines to watch develop heading into the new season. (Photo: Getty Images)
Now that the new race format for 2017 has been announced, there are still several more stories to watch develop before Speedweeks kicks off at Daytona International Speedway.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Testing
This week’s session at Phoenix Raceway is the first time teams have had a chance to put the new lower-downforce aerodynamic rules package through its paces on the track. While simulations and time in the wind tunnel have been plentiful during the winter months, organizations need actual track time to hone their plans for race trim.
As evidenced by the battalion of engineers on hand at Phoenix, it won’t take long for some of that downforce to be back through the evolution of the rules package - just as it was last year. However, early-season races after Daytona at Atlanta, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Auto Club Speedway will be an early indication of the impact this year’s version of the package will have.
Less Practice Time
NASCAR is looking to shorten race weekends in terms of practice and other on-track activity. Although tentative, some of the schedules for the first couple races are out and less practice is available.
"We're trying to be smart with our time, especially with late starts," said Brad Keselowski. "You don't get home to see your family until two, three in the morning if you're on a race team, so you lose part of Monday, too. You have to find a way to get that day back and tie it all together."
All-Star Race Format
Now that NASCAR has adopted a segmented race format across its three national series, where does the All-Star Race go from here? The annual trip to Charlotte Motor Speedway has featured a variety of concepts in recent years, all centered on formats.
Since every week of the regular season will use that format, it will be interesting to see how officials spice up the All-Star Race to make it stand out. The idea of running Charlotte’s road course generated a great deal of buzz within the sport and appears to still be on the table. Look for CMS to swing for the fences this year in hopes of trying to bring some much-needed excitement and energy back to the event.
Veterans Without Rides
Have we seen the last of the likes of Casey Mears, Greg Biffle, Regan Smith and Sam Hornish Jr.? That quartet of veteran drivers is without a ride in any of NASCAR’s top tiers and there hasn’t been much in the way of news around any of them. Mears indicated that he’d be open to a number of different racing disciplines while Biffle continues to say he’s listening but doesn’t have anything firm for the coming season. He recently Tweeted to a fan, "Still working on it, bud. My fans are the most important to me." If anything, the bench of possible substitute drivers should teams look for a veteran to fill in is very strong.
It was revealed during last week’s NASCAR media tour that Nature’s Bakery is not fully locked to sponsor Danica Patrick for the 20 races Stewart-Haas Racing had planned in 2017. While both sides have said publicly they continue to work on the situation and SHR reaffirmed that Patrick will run the whole schedule, it brings up serious questions about her long-term future in the sport.
Patrick’s marketing and promotional skills are among the best of any athlete. But has her lack of success faded that star? She’s as frustrated as anyone about not being as competitive as expected during her NASCAR career. With sponsorship questions hovering, 2017 will be a critical and intriguing year for Patrick.
The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.